Rising to the top as a woman in insurance

One of this year's Elite Women, explains the role of risk management and insurance with climate change

Rising to the top as a woman in insurance

Diversity & Inclusion


Paula ter Brake has worn many hats during her over 20-year presence in the insurance industry. Her career trajectory is interesting for not being a straight line but rather a fusion of various duties and locations, which have led to her multifaceted role as chief risk officer and managing director, Pacific, at Tower Insurance. Her current work focuses on aligning the company’s products and services with efforts to address the impact of climate change.

One of Insurance Business New Zealand’s Elite Women in 2022, ter Brake enjoys the variety of her day-to-day activities.

“On any given day, I could be working with our chief financial officer and our chief underwriting officer on business fundamentals like making sure that our capital solvency is right, our reinsurance programs are robust and that we’re pricing fundamentals correctly as well. But on that same day, I could be working with our emergency management team, dealing with catastrophic events that impact the health and well-being of our team members and any one of the multiple locations where we operate,” she said.

Strategic and stakeholder management is a crucial part of her responsibilities, as well as managing regulatory and government relationships throughout the company’s territories in New Zealand and eight Pacific islands.   

Central to her job is understanding the risk that insurers and their customers face amid increasingly frequent natural disasters. She said that addressing climate change calls for “a significant uplift in the quality of industrial and infrastructure insurance for things like renewable energy. And we haven’t scratched the surface of that, possibly because they are developing markets, so they are not as advanced, albeit there are some significant agendas being made by the Pacific Island nation governments themselves, with support from international stakeholders like the UN and the World Bank.”

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as cyclones in the South Pacific, as well as the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga, have shown the need for reinsurance participation to mitigate climate-associated risks. Therefore, offering non-traditional products, like parametric micro insurance, is an effective way to strengthen the market’s ability to deal with climate change. 

“We’re also seeing that it being such a perilous and high-risk location, there is a massive role of regulation in conjunction with managing climate change. And we see that while some global insurers have retrenched out of the South Pacific, new local insurers have emerged. Regulation needs to keep up because those local insurers have got to be as robust in their capital management as a global insurer would be,” she said.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, one of Tower Insurance’s major initiatives is applying data and digital technology to develop flood and earthquake risk ratings for residential properties. A risk-based pricing model gives homeowners a better grasp of how their insurance premium is comprised and enables purchasers to assess the flood and earthquake risks associated with a property they are considering buying, said ter Brake. Such information gives customers greater control in deciding how and where to live. Apart from digital transformation, online payments represent another project that Tower is pursuing to improve people’s access to insurance.

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!